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Drink driving statistics Australia: Alcohol-related crash stats explained

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How prevalent is drink driving in Australia? (Image: Energepic.com)
How prevalent is drink driving in Australia? (Image: Energepic.com)

Facts about drink driving and why you need to have a Plan B

What is drink driving? Simply put, it’s when you’re driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Drinking alcohol has long been a favourite past time for Australians – we’re renowned for it.

Alcohol is a drug, but it’s a socially acceptable one Down Under.

Let’s look at sobering drink driving statistics Australia: 51 per cent of NSW drivers have admitted to having drink driven in their lifetime.

This means that drink driving has not been conducted by a small percentage of individuals but by more than half of us at some point.

What percentage of car accidents are caused by alcohol in Australia?

In 2022, drunk driving statistics Australia showed that 21 per cent of fatal accidents involved a motorist with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of above the legal limit: 0.05.

Or more plainly, one in five road deaths involved a BAC .05 or higher.

What is the Australia drink driving limit and what is a BAC?

A Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a measurement of the amount of alcohol in the body and is measured in grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

If you’re on a learners or provisional licence, your BAC should be zero. For almost every other Australian driver, your BAC must be below 0.05. This means that a driver's body must contain less than 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

In NSW, we have a tiered BAC system. For drivers of Gross Motor Vehicles (GVM) vehicles over 13.9 tonnes, or vehicles carrying dangerous goods, or drivers of public vehicles (taxis/ buses), your BAC limit must be below 0.02.

51 per cent of NSW drivers have admitted to having drink driven in their lifetime
51 per cent of NSW drivers have admitted to having drink driven in their lifetime

What affects an individual’s BAC level?

Turns out, lots of things:

The time of day affects the rate at which your body processes alcohol. You tend to burn less energy at night, when your body is ‘winding down’ and drink driving appears to be more common between midnight and 3am.

Your gender, men and women process alcohol at different rates.

Your age factors in too because being older or younger can affect how much alcohol your body can process.

Your weight, size and body fat percentage can influence how quickly your body processes alcohol.

Your health can trip you up – certain conditions and medicines can distort how your body processes alcohol.

Whether or not you have eaten is also a factor because eating may slow down the rate that your body absorbs alcohol, but it won’t guarantee that you’ll be under the limit.

Everyone’s body processes alcohol differently, so your tolerance for alcohol plays its part as well.

Simply put, drink driving is when you’re driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (Image: Energepic.com)
Simply put, drink driving is when you’re driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (Image: Energepic.com)

Why is drink driving bad?

There is no true safe limit of drinking alcohol and driving, even if you are below the legal limit for your circumstances.

A study done by the Transport Accident Commission Victoria found the following data:

0.02 to 0.05 BAC: "Your ability to see or locate moving lights correctly is diminished, as is the ability to judge distances. The tendency to take risks is increased, and the ability to respond to several stimuli is decreased."

0.05 to 0.08 BAC: "The ability to judge distances is reduced, sensitivity to red lights is impaired, reactions are slower and concentration span shorter. At 0.08 BAC drivers are five times more like to be involved in a crash."

0.08 to 0.12 BAC: "Euphoria sets in, overestimation of one's abilities leads to reckless driving, peripheral vision and perception of obstacles is impaired. Drivers are up to 10 times more likely to have an accident."

What are the drink driving penalties?

Penalties vary between states, but individual police forces are doing their part in catching drink drivers with Random Breath Testing (RBT).

NSW - If you commit a low, special or novice range drink driving offence where your BAC is under 0.08, your licence can be suspended for three-months and you may be issued an on-the-spot fine of $682 with a maximum court-imposed fine of $2200 ($3300 for subsequent offences).

For a first-time mid-range drink driving offence, where your BAC is above 0.08 but below 0.15, you can face a prison term of up to nine months, court-imposed fine of $2200 and a minimum licence disqualification of six months. You will also be subject to an alcohol interlock order.

For a first-time high-range drink driving offence, where your BAC is above 0.15, you can face a prison term of 18 months, a court-imposed fine of $3300 and a minimum licence disqualification of 12 months (but usually to see a three-year ban) and you will be subject to an alcohol interlock order.

WA - If you are caught driving with a BAC equal to or above 0.05 and less than 0.08, for the first offence, you can pay an infringement to avoid being prosecuted in court. If you are caught a second or subsequent time, you will have to appear in court and will receive a fine up to $2000, be disqualified from driving for a minimum of six months, and may be required to participate in the alcohol interlock scheme.

ACT - Offences for drink driving vary depending on the alcohol concentration level recorded and the concentration limit which applies to the driver. A first offence can lead to a fine of up to $2400, nine months imprisonment, or both. First-time offenders may also have their driver’s licence disqualified for up to three years.

Drivers that repeatedly offend, face a fine of up to $3200, 12-months imprisonment, or both. Repeat offenders may have their driver’s licence disqualified for up to five years.

Police may also impose an Immediate Suspension Notice, which suspends the driver’s licence for up to 90 days.

For Tasmania penalties, click here.

For Victoria penalties, click here.

For NT penalties click here.

For Queensland penalties, click here.

Alcohol Interlock pictured (Image: Transport for NSW)
Alcohol Interlock pictured (Image: Transport for NSW)

Do your circumstances mean you’re more at risk?

The prevalence of drinking driving varies between the sexes and males between the ages between 26 to 39 years old tend to be the most at risk of fatalities from drink driving. In fact, in Victoria male road users made up 74 per cent of people who lost their lives in the last five years.

Figure 1: drink driving statistics Australia 2022

Studies have shown that men are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour compared to women of the same age. This is because of a range of reasons, but the most prominent seems to be because males are less likely to believe that they will get hurt when taking risks.

In addition, men are more likely to see injury as a product of bad luck, rather than a result of controllable behaviours. Unfortunately, across all but one age category (50-59), males die in a far greater proportion than their share of the population. So, look out for your mates!

Emily Agar
Contributing Journalist
Emily discovered her interest in cars early through her mum’s passion, and quickly found herself researching the cool cars her mum’s S15 Nissan 200SX passed on the highway.  Emily's readiness to engage and have a chat wound up opening her first door in the media, spending time as a freelance events and news photographer for her local paper while undertaking a Creative Writing degree at the University of Wollongong. After graduating, Emily helped to build the family real estate business. Not satisfied with the high-octane environment of sales, Emily signed a book deal for her YA fantasy novel and has successfully published the first novel in the series.  Always one to be busy (sometimes to her chagrin), she wrote the novel and then completed the edits while pregnant with her cheeky five-year-old boy. As if growing a little human wasn’t exhausting enough!  But her natural curiosity of ‘what’s that car?!’ and 'why don't they do it this way?!' continued throughout and it didn’t come as a surprise to her family when she was drawn into the automotive world professionally as a Contributing Journalist with CarsGuide. Aside from her passion for what makes a good family car, Emily has a soft spot for Nissan Skylines, big utes and any muscle cars that make the heart thump. 
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